Is Resentment Keeping You from Finding Gratitude and Happiness After 60?
By the time you reach your 60s, you’ve probably let go of some relationships.
Whether the parting was due to divorce, family conflict that got out of hand or a friendship that turned sour, most of us have moved on from at least one relationship.
That recognition makes me think of a woman named Bonnie I worked with years ago (please note names have been changed).
Her husband of over 30 years, Brian, was my actual patient. He had come into therapy to talk about his mistakes in their marriage. He admitted shamefully that he hadn’t been thoughtful of his wife, that his career had been his primary focus. She had moved with him to several different locations, and made a beautiful home for him and their children each time.
He realized, too late, that he had taken her completely for granted. He wanted to make whatever amends he could, but she was having none of it.
She Was Done
To help him fully, I thought it would be helpful to talk with her as well, if she would come. She agreed, and met us both for one session.
She said, “Don’t think I’m here to reconcile. I hate this man, and everything he stands for. But if it will help him be a better father, then I’ll tell you my end of the story.” Anger and bitterness spewed out of her, and she took little to no responsibility for what had occurred in their marriage.
I heard about Bonnie through the years. Her bitterness had overwhelmed her. It wasn’t contained and only focused on her divorce, but had spread to the other relationships in her life. I saw her once from afar. She wasn’t smiling, but sitting off to herself.
There are many people who formerly loved one another, yet hang on to hurt or anger. It’s one thing, of course, if there was abuse or violence. Moving as far away as possible, emotionally and maybe even physically, can at times be necessary. When the kids have been manipulated or hurt, it can be very difficult to reach some kind of truce.
The Limits of Our Perceptions
I’m not being a Pollyanna over here and wanting everybody to “just get along.” Yet as we age, we hopefully understand the limits of our perceptions. We realize that our individual way of understanding something, or even remembering it, is significantly colored by our own history, our personality, our strengths and our vulnerabilities.
Recognizing those limits, realizing that our perspective is just that – perspective – we might choose to acknowledge the importance of past relationships, even though they ended, and value what they meant to us.
Bonnie was never going to want to be around Brian. But a choice not be swept up in resentment – that can only damage her and her other relationships – would have seemed a much healthier choice.
You don’t have to be friends again. You don’t have to spend time with the person whom you’ve let go.
Yet perhaps you can find gratitude for what they offered to you in life. Some people can accomplish this if there’s trouble. For example, if an ex becomes ill. But it might be nice to consider saying, in a letter, an email or over the phone, “You were important to me,” before a crisis occurs.
They may not accept it. They may be hanging onto their own resentment. But you may likely feel more contented. Unhooking from that resentment is freeing.
I’ve found a couple of books that might be helpful reading on significant relationships ending. My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friendsby Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger takes an in-depth look at friendships ending. There are many books on surviving divorce, but if you’re divorced after 40, click here for a book written just for you.
What are you grateful for? Why do you think it is so hard for people to let go of resentment, even if they know that doing so will lead to greater happiness? Please join the conversation.
Dr. Margaret Rutherford is a clinical psychologist, with over twenty years of practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Her expertise is in the area of depression and other psychological issues. She has written an eBook, “Seven Commandments of Good Therapy,” which is available on her website. She is currently researching and writing a book on what she terms Perfectly Hidden Depression.